Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Duality of Nature
English literature is full of rich examples and creations that show the real duality of nature. From the very begining, as we will see in this paper, to modern stories, the writers wanted to show the actual life and nature that surrounded them. The duality of life is something common to us, the whole world is double-faced, and so does nature. Human life is governed by some dual rules guided by nature.
Robert Louis Stevenson's best seller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and also Mary Selley's Frankenstein, represent two of the most important novels which deal with nature and human duality. Although Frankenstein is not a real split in human being between two different elements, it also deals with the two faces of nature. Both of them agree that there is a binary structure in nature, this duality also implies there should be a balance between both parts in order to keep them in harmony. The agreement between both parts is the essence of nature.
Stevenson and M. Shelley show in their novels the consequences and the contrast between these two parts: good and evil, but also serenity and wilderness. Sir Gawainand the Green Knight reminds us to these novels because of the exploration of human nature. Nevertheless, duality in Frankenstein and in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is no longer valid, since evil can came over good. As we see in these novels evil cannot be isolated, there is an attraction between good and evil, evil -or instinct- is one of the two forces of life . We cannot separate good from evil, neither calm from wilderness. Wherever is calm it will also be a piece of wilderness.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a chavelry poem which involves the divine and the human, the natural and the magical, and presents a pattern of these categories in which potential antagonisms between them are conciliated. We can see that the poet's awareness of the generic forces of life and growth and richness and energy are represented in this poem. Specifically, they are realized themselves in the image of the Green Knight. He is huge in the richness of his personal resources and capacities of enjoyment, and in the bounty of his entertainment. However, while Gawain is recuperating his energies in bed, he hunts wild beasts. Here we see the dual personality of the Green Knight: in one part the calm, but on the other hand the wilderness.
We see the Green Knight curb the excesses of nature. Thus, this dramatic contrast between humanity and harsh nature is solved by imposing a pattern, and this pattern might be a balance an adjustment between winning and wasting, between grouth and deliquescence. At the begining of the poem, the scene of the Green Knight coming into the Court represents the forces of nature, but also the death of civilization, the death of the courtly values.
The Green Knight mainly represents one season: the spring. He is a symbol of nature, his character involves a natural essence. The Green Knight represents a renewal of life, a rebirth. In the poem, the striking off of the head of the Green Knight is like the pollarding of a tree:
Gawain grips to his ax and gathers it aloft-
The left foot on the floor before him he set-
Brought it down deftly upon the bare neck,
That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones
And cut the flesh cleanly and clove it in twain,
That the blade of bright steel bit into the ground.
The head was hewn off and fell to the floor;
These lines reminds us the trimming of a tree, as if it was winter and Gawain was cutting the remaining mass of branches of a tree. Besides, the Green Knight in his boisterousness of confident humour after delivering his challenge resembles a tree swayed by gusts of wind:
Wagged his beard as he watchedwho would arise
If he astonished them at first, stiller were then
All that household in hall, the high aud the low;
The stranger on his green steed stirred in the saddle,
And roisterously his red eyes he rolled all about,
Bent his bristling brows, that were bright green,
If we take an account of the predominance of the green colour, and if we take notice that there is a remarkable presence of the regeneration of nature -when the Green Knight recovers his head- we will notice that this poem seems to be an allegory of the spring. However, we could also affirm that because of this duality of nature, the Green Knight is not only connected with supernatural forces but also with infernal forces. The Green Knight could characterize the hellish nature we should struggle against. So, the poem expresses spiritual and temporary happiness of the season.
This poem is based on some contrasts such as: the three hunting expeditions, the three visits from the Lady to Gawain -and as a consequence, the three kisses-, the Green Knight makes three blows the axe, and so on. Nevertheless, the most important triangular symbol is the relation between Sir Gawain and heaven, and the Green Knight and the hell, obviously nature is between them.
We can see in this poem, as well as in Frankenstein, a dramatic contrast between nature and society, hence, human nature is amongst them. In the poem the main contrast is between the social joys of the court, its games and the feasting at Christmastide, and the savagery of nature's winter, careless of human needs:
High hills on either hand, with hoar woods below,
Oaks old and huge by the hundred together.
The hazel and the hawthorn were all intertwined
With rough raveled moss, that raggedly hung,
With many birds unblithe upon bare twigs
That peeped most piteously for pain of the cold.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight represents a conflict between what is natural and what is civilized. This oposition affects human beings. The contrast between the natural and the civilized world is joined into the Green Knight himself. Firstly it seems to be that the Green Knight is the one who is acting in a bad manner, but at the end we see that he is the only one who acts correctly. As in Frankenstein, the Green Knight -and Victor Frankenstein's deamon- is the victim of society. He seems to be two different persons, one among society and the other one when surrounded by nature.
On the other hand, Sir Gawain's behaviour and his courtly manners are put in doubt, so society itself is also put in doubt. He feels himself guilty because he has broken down laws of courtly manners and love. Gawain reflects the fact of putting before the individual rather than the society. However, he is ashamed of himself, though the Green Knight says him that he should not be so ashamed. Also the deamon in Frankenstein feels ashamed, but he has no alternative but to continue with his revenge.
We have seen in this poem the large importance of the duality of nature. Everything in the poem has a double essence: the spring, human beings, the actions, etc. The great presence of the colour green in the poem is also an important symbol. This colour represents the beauty of nature, but also its wilderness. Hence, the Green Knight is himself, but he has also the unlimited energy of a symbol. All forces of life -good and evil- are realized themselves in the image of the Green Knight. Everything in nature is dual.